Afghanistan: The Perfect Failure
Afghanistan: The Perfect Failure
The war in Afghanistan has been going on for over ten years. It now has the unenviable distinction of being America's longest war. For eight years, from 2001 until early 2009, it was George Bush's war. Now, the torch has been passed to Barack Obama. During the 2008 presidential election, Obama called it the war that America had to win and he made it a major part of his campaign, vowing to win it. According to the Democrats at the time, this was the "good" war because the attacks of 9/11 were planned here, and the war in Iraq was the "bad" war, the war we should have never fought.
Now, in 2012, the war in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of over 2,100 Americans and wounded more than 15,000. And there will be more deaths and more wounded. True to his words, Barack Obama has dramatically increased resources flowing into Afghanistan - more money, more equipment, and more troops. As a result, Afghanistan is now his war in a very big way: over 60% of all American casualties suffered thus far have happened on his watch.
However, the truth is, we are no closer to winning now than we were in 2009. In fact, you will not hear the three-letter active verb, to win , in any policy statement or position paper coming out of Kabul or Washington today. That kind of talk ceased a long time ago. Nor will you hear Afghanistan discussed in any meaningful way during the 2012 presidential campaign. Instead, you will hear vague, flaccid statements about how important it is to "build capacity" within the Afghan security forces; how they must "stand up" before we can "stand down;" how they must "assume responsibility for the nation's security;" and so on. Platitudes will be voiced regarding a "safe and democratic" Afghanistan - and its vital role regarding the stability of the region and the world. You will hear many things concerning Afghanistan, some true and some not, but you will not hear "to win " because winning, in any sense, is no longer the overall, official objective. We gave up on winning long ago. Unfortunately, when winning isn't the clearly stated goal in combat, it doesn't happen. With no clear vision of what victory will look like, victory becomes difficult to visualize and impossible to achieve.
In combat, if you are not winning, you are losing. There really is no middle ground. Clearly, we are losing the war in Afghanistan and there are many reasons for this failure. Corruption is, by far, the most crippling factor. The regime of President Hamid Karzai has become a powerful, inter-locking criminal enterprise and it has penetrated every aspect of life here. Since coming to power, Karzai has moved his family into key positions throughout the country, from the poppy fields in Kandahar to the banking centers in Kabul. With the consent of the coalition, he now controls all international aid flowing into the country. He also managed to take Barack Obama's much-publicized timeline of withdrawal, scheduled to begin in 2011, and changed it to 2014.
The poppies are a special case. During recent years, poppy cultivation has steadily grown in Kandahar, Helmand and other provinces throughout the country. Over 500,000 acres of poppies are harvested annually, making Afghanistan the world's leader in opium production, producing at estimated 97% of the illicit drug. This drug trade, estimated at four billion dollars annually, makes up roughly half of Afghanistan's GDP. Opium production is illegal in Afghanistan, yet the coalition has abandoned all efforts at eradicating the poppies because Karzai is opposed to eradication. While opium is a prime source of corruption, this is not the worst of it. Poppy cultivation and the proceeds from it fund approximately 90% of all Taliban activity. Without these funds, about $300,000,000 annual